A rare but potentially deadly virus has made its way to Connecticut and could soon be transferred from ticks to humans, according to state officials. Human cases of the virus have been reported in other states in the northeast, including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine.
Dr. Theodore Andreadis, director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, said researchers identified ticks carrying the Powassan virus as part of a study published in 2012.
According to Andreadis, 2 to 3 percent of ticks surveyed in North Branford and Bridgeport tested positive for the virus. By comparison, some 30-40 percent of ticks in Connecticut carry Lyme disease.
Although there are no known cases of the virus in Connecticut, Andreadis said he expects the state could be seeing human cases soon.
"It’s an emerging tick-borne disease that we’re going to be looking at more closely. Right now, we know it’s in the state," he explained. "We don’t know how widespread it is but we’re going to be doing more work to find out, and with reported cases in surrounding states, it’s quite likely we’re getting some human exposure here in Connecticut."
Although the Powassan virus is "relatively rare," it "has the potential to cause very serious disease" and can produce encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, Andreadis said.
The virus was first identified in 1958 in Powassan, Ontario, when a child contracted the disease and died, according to Andreadis.
Andreadis said the CEAS is expanding its survey to determine the prevalence of the virus in Connecticut.
Residents should be diligent about checking for ticks when hiking or camping the woods.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends using tick repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants when spending time in wooded or bushy areas.